Constitution for a Euro Superstate; If a Draft Document Is Ratified, Brussels Will Assume the Lead in Foreign Policy, Criminal Justice, Economic Planning and Issues That Parliaments Deal with Today

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Byline: James P. Lucier, INSIGHT

Brussels 2003 is hardly Philadelphia 1787. But the European Union (EU) has come up with a draft constitution which finally would create the centralized superstate that proponents have been seeking for 50 years. Critics have charged that the delegates who prepared the document had no mandate to do so, but that the suggestion of a constitution "was rapidly seized upon ... without any study of either the alternatives or the long-term consequences of such an act," according to a minority report.

It is a familiar story. Patrick Henry, a bitter opponent of the Philadelphia draft of the U.S. Constitution, electrified the Virginia Convention considering ratification in 1788 by seizing upon the opening words of the Preamble. "By what right had they to say 'We, the people?' Who authorized them to speak the language of 'We, the people,' instead of 'We, the states?' If the states are not the agents of this compact, then the instrument must provide for one great consolidated national government."

In the end Henry's view was rejected narrowly by a divided Virginia Convention, though his warning proved to be correct. And the draft U.S. Constitution written in Philadelphia contained 4,616 words, whereas the draft European Constitution, which is more explicit in its description of a unitary state, has 66,452.

On July 18 in Rome, Valery Giscard d'Estaing, the chairman of the Convention on the Future of Europe and a former French president, officially handed over the full draft of the proposed European Constitution to Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who currently has the rotating presidency of the EU's European Council. The presentation of the draft was the last step in a process that began in the Belgian resort of Laeken in December 2001.

Constitution? What constitution? Until now the EU was a creature of four multilateral treaties, and never had what the international lawyers call "a legal personality." But if this constitution is adopted (and its proponents hope it will be signed by May 2004), it will be a legal personality on steroids.

The so-called Laeken Declaration, which set the mandate for the Convention on the Future of Europe, spoke vaguely about the need for reorganization and redefinition of the functions of the EU. It talked about the need "to become more democratic, more transparent and more efficient." A constitution was mentioned only in an offhand way: "The question ultimately arises as to whether this simplification and reorganization might not lead in the long run to the adoption of a constitutional text in the Union." But "ultimately" turned out to be "immediately." When the representatives to the convention (all variously members of the 15 governments, national parliaments and the European Parliament) convened in working sessions, draft proposals began to appear piecemeal.

By the time Giscard showed up in Rome he smugly proclaimed victory. "With this constitution, Europe is taking a decisive step toward political union: a union of citizens and a union of member states," he said. "The draft is a success because it is a finished product with no loose ends to be tied up, no options left open." Indeed, he demanded "to have the text left as it stands," declaring that "reopening it, even in part, would cause it to unravel."

But whether Giscard will get his way depends a great deal on what happens in Great Britain. Prime Minister Tony Blair twice has refused demands to put the constitution to a referendum, contending that it would be a mere alteration of treaties, not a fundamental constitutional change. Polls show an overwhelming resistance to the proposal in the United Kingdom. In May, Blair had to postpone indefinitely the decision to abandon the pound sterling for the euro currency because opinion survey after opinion survey showed that the vast majority considered the national currency a national treasure. …